Secrets Q & A

Audio/Video Cables: The Science and the Insanity


Cables, Cables, and More Cables

One of the most interesting things about A/V cables is that they come in all sizes and shapes, or rather, conductor configurations. Some are twisted, some are spiral, some are flat, some are round, some are different diameters, etc. Just about everything you could imagine is in someone's cable design out there. The idea is to do as little to the signal as possible in the cable, right? No signal loss, no smearing, no change in frequency response, right? So, why are special, and very expensive A/C power cords marketed as improving the sound? The only way they could improve the sound is to attenuate the RF and other noise that comes in through the miles and miles of power lines to which that A/C cord is attached.

Well, this sounds contradictory right from the start. We want audio cables to do nothing to the sound (not remove anything), but we want A/C power cords to improve the sound, and the only way it can do that is to remove the noise that is on the power lines. In other words, you expect the complete opposite effect on one set of wires vs. another. Here, again, you can spend mucho dinero on A/C power cords.

Is something wrong with this picture? Our own double-blind tests on A/C power cords failed to show any differences between expensive vs. inexpensive cords.

This is not to say that no one has ever heard any difference between any sets of A/V cables. There are some tests that have been positive for intereconnects and speaker cables - just as there are differences in the performance of speakers and amplifiers. And, so that I am clear on this, I do believe that good cables can make a difference in the sound quality, although I do not believe that the differences are dramatic. They are subtle at best, and this is part of the problem.

But, when we get to the point that someone actually expects us to shell out as much money for a pair of cables as we could for an entire home theater setup, I hereby file my official rejection of such expectations. I have seen the word "insanity" applied to discussions of cables in other publications, as well as such statements as " . . . overpriced, and you know who I mean," or generally to that effect.

There are plenty of excellent A/V cables out there, many of them sold on-line, such as Emotiva, Better Cables, Blue Jeans Cable, River Cables, and others. Certainly, the little package of RCA interconnects that comes in the box with a DVD player is not the way to go. Having well constructed cables with gold plated copper connectors is important, and these can be had for $50-$200/pair depending on whether they are interconnects and the length. Even replacing the stock A/C cord can be worthwhile, because the stock cords are sometimes pretty flimsy. But $5,000/pair, $10,000/pair, $20,000/pair? There has to be justification for this because it is just some wires and connectors, not PC boards with precision resistors, large capacitors, output devices, along with 20 pound toroidal transformers, machined chassis, or aluminum-magnesium cones, cast baskets, crossover networks with air core inductors, wood enclosures with exotic wood veneer.